It was Pour Lui‘s admiration for Morning Musume and Takahashi Ai that made her decide she wanted to form an idol group of her own, and she then went on to become the leader and “naughty” member of BiS. Meanwhile, singer-songwriter Oomori Seiko has been performing her H!P covers at Hello! Shops, conveying her love of Hello! Project and Michishige Sayumi in particular. Admitting to being greatly influenced by Platinum Era Morning Musume especially, these two talked to us about what in Hello! Project music appeals to them, as well as what makes them so partial to Morning Musume.
— To start off, could you tell us how you first came in contact with Hello! Project?
Pour: I’m 23 years old which means I’m just the age where I was in elementary school when Morning Musume became huge.
Oomori: Same here. I’m the same age as Tsuji and Kago. I remember seeing Morning Musume on TV when I was 13 or 14 years old and being moved upon learning how those two were the same age as me and yet being such hard workers. That’s when I became a fan.
— What about them caught your interest?
Pour: For me, it was purely admiration and love.
Oomori: I’m very interested in girls — I had this “habit” of looking inside bags of girls I liked, trying to find their gym suits and stuff… all kinds of male virgin loser stuff like that. Morning Musume was the perfect target to focus my curiosity on simply because no one would get angry at me. (laughs)
From Morning Musume’s soulful funk of “The Matenrou Show” to the almost choir-like “Dekkai Uchuu ni Ai ga Aru” to the humor of “Chokkan ~Toki Toshite Koi wa~” and beyond, Suzuki Shunsuke has been responsible for the color received by a wide variety of Hello! Project songs. Where are his musical origins and what is the source of his varied arrangements?
— Could you start by telling us about your musical roots?
Suzuki: I had a father who loved jazz as well as a big brother who loved Western music, so it was only natural that I came into contact with music myself. My big brother played guitar, so one day around the time I was in middle school I picked it up and just thought, “okay, I could see myself doing this.” I just felt it the moment I picked up that guitar. So then I formed an instrumental fusion band in middle school, but we couldn’t find a drummer so we had to rely on a drum machine which is when I learned my basics about programming. I also loved YMO and progressive rock — I was mainly listening to instrumental music.
— Did you listen to any popular music?
Suzuki: I didn’t really come into contact with it. I wasn’t even watching The Best Ten. It was the one area of music I knew nothing about. I was too busy learning jazz guitar in high school — I was hooked on everything but kayou kyoku. I just didn’t have the time for pop.
In this article, we get a discussion between Tower Records president and noted Hello! Project fan Minewaki Ikuo, and professional book critic as well as interviewer Yoshida Go. The topic: “your favorite Hello! Project singles of all-time.” However…!?
— I would like to take this opportunity to talk with you two about your favorite Hello! Project singles and B-sides.
Yoshida: See, that’s my first gripe with this thing — only being able to choose from single releases! I mean, you simply can’t have as much personality without all the album tracks, too. Whenever I’m doing Hello! Project DJ’ing events, I hardly ever play the singles — I mostly just do songs from their soundtracks and stuff. That, and songs from fanclub-only releases.
Minewaki: But even with just the singles alone, there’s so many to choose from. I just can’t do it. (laughs) So what I’d like to do with this article is, I’d mainly like to talk about Yoshida’s favorites and just offer my views on them.
— Sure, let’s go with that. (laughs) Shall we begin with Morning Musume?
Nagai Rui — the man responsible for arranging one of Hello! Project’s most long-lasting favorites, Tanpopo’s “Otome Pasta ni Kandou.” While he hasn’t arranged a great number of songs for Hello! Project, all of them have left a lasting impact. In this interview, he talks about everything from his musical roots to a certain unexpected (?) meaning behind one of Tanpopo’s songs.
— You’re a successful lyricist, songwriter and arranger, and also a talented multi-instrumentalist. Could you talk a little bit about how that came to be?
Nagai: I guess it all began when I first started learning how to play the piano back in kindergarten. But it’s not like I’m from a family of academics or anything, so I just played for my own amusement. Then I got into elementary school… high school… and I was just floored by The Beatles. That made me pick up the guitar — although that, too, was just for my own amusement. I was in bands since junior high school, but every time there’d be problems like “the bassist can’t really play the bass” or something, so then I’d have to try playing the bass myself, or I’d have to play the guitar, or I’d have to sing… I got to try it all.
— And through that, you picked up all those instruments naturally?
Nagai: Yes. And since all we were doing at the time were Beatles and Queen covers, my playing was always a little bit eccentric from the get-go. Of course later I got to listen to all kinds of different music as well, but since those two bands were my roots it took me a long time to even realize that my playing was unusual.
Beginning with Berryz Koubou’s “Anata Nashi de wa Ikite Yukenai” and Gomattou’s “SHALL WE LOVE?“, AKIRA has been the biggest name in Hello! Project when it comes to R&B. Having originally come from the field of R&B himself, how does he work when it comes to the music of Hello! Project?
— Could you start by talking about how you first became interested in music production?
AKIRA: I was always a big fan of fusion music and I played bass in a band back in high school. Once I returned from studying abroad in America, I found that the new jack swing genre had become popular, and through it I got into R&B which made me get into trackmaking as well as singing. I taught myself how to do music programming as well.
— How did you become a professional musician?
AKIRA: Rittor Music was hosting this thing called AXIA Artist Audition in ’96. You could take part in it just by sending in a tape — this was perfect for me since I hated singing in front of people. (laughs) I participated in it two years in a row, receiving an award both times. People who made it into the final round of the audition got their song put on a CD and sent to record labels, which is how I then joined Toshiba-EMI as a kind of a singer-songwriter. I made the move from Sapporo to Tokyo in ’98 and started working as a songwriter, first receiving work from the recording directors of Toshino Yonekura and Nakanishi Keizo. Right after that, I started working with Hello! Project.
— So you first worked with Hello! Project almost immediately after you began working professionally as a songwriter.
AKIRA: Right during that initial period, yes. I was pretty much raised by Hello! Project. It was like school for me.
Member of Base Ball Bear and idol critic Koide Yusuke, up-and-coming beat maker and idol fan tofubeats, and writer Namba Kazumi. We got these three to talk on the subject of “your five favorite Hello! Project singles of all time.” What do they think are the best singles…!?
Namba: So, since this book is about the singles of Hello! Project, we’ve been tasked with talking about our five favorite singles.
Koide: Every era has its gems. I have a feeling this is going to be a tough roundtable.
tofubeats: Do we really have to limit ourselves to just five…?
One of the supporting pillars of early Hello! Project: Takahashi Yuichi. He has worked on a great number of noteworthy songs, including Matsuura Aya’s “Momoiro Kataomoi.” What does he find important when it comes to the craft of music arrangement…?
— You began your career by releasing two solo albums, and then you also composed and arranged songs for other artists, right?
Takahashi: To be accurate: at the time, the arranging I was doing for other artists only extended to the songs I’d already given to Moritaka Chisato — the composition and arrangement went hand in hand. For artists other than her, I only contributed the melodies.
— What are your thoughts regarding your own solo career?
Takahashi: Well, I love singing, but it’s not that I have much technique in regards to it, and I was like, “I’ll just try to make my singing sound really atmospheric.” I couldn’t do anything special with my voice. So even back then, working as a singer-songwriter, I felt unsure of my singing and I thought I might be better suited for creating sounds and arrangements. That’s when I started becoming interested in that aspect of music.
S/milage’s “Suki-chan,” Berryz Koubou’s “Maji Bomber!!“, and so on and so forth. When the song calls for a band sound with loud guitars, Itagaki Yusuke is the man you want. A guitarist himself, what has he learned about individuality through working on so many different types of songs?
— Please tell us how you first got started in music.
Itagaki: Back in junior high school we were learning how to play the guitar in music class. It was just the classical guitar, but nevertheless, that was the first time in my life that I got to touch a guitar. Some of my classmates at the time happened to be playing the guitar as well, and I guess I was influenced by them because once I’d touched it, I just got completely hooked. Then I’d try forming bands with my friends… we were really into playing stuff like Bon Jovi, Aerosmith and Mr. Big, bands like that.
— Were there any other bands you liked just as a listener, aside from the hard rock stuff?
Itagaki: I listened to lots of the so-called “Being-era” ZARD and Oguro Maki. There was something very catchy about Oda Tetsuro’s melodies — something with his music just clicked with me. Whenever I’m working on idol songs, those sorts of melody lines just pop into my mind naturally.